Rahil Gangjee and Abhijit Chadha's consistency ensured India's presence in the top-10 but for the second successive day a Thai, Chapchai Nirat, figured among the leaders even as some prominent names missed the cut at the USD 2.3 million Avantha Masters golf tournament on Friday. (File photo: Rahil Gangjee)
Nirat and China's Liang Wen Chong jointly held the top spot with totals of 12-under 132 after returning identical cards of six-under 66 for the second day running.
Gangjee (66) and Chadha (69) were tied for the seventh spot with aggregates of nine-under 135, three stokes off the pace. They shared the position with overnight leader Chinnarat Phadungsil of Thailand whose fortunes took a tumble as he turned in a rather disappointing 74 after setting the course ablaze with a sensational 61 yesterday.
The cut was settled at a rather low three-under and some reputed names fell by the wayside. Among the big disappointments was the tournament's big draw, Scottish legend Colin Montgomerie, who stumbled to a second successive four-over 76, Italian star Edoardo Molinari (70) and defending champion Jbe Kruger (72) of South Africa.
Montgomerie, who has 31 European Tour titles and is considered the best player never to have won a Major, could have ended up at bottom of the heap had it not been for some withdrawals. Shiv Kapur (72) was among the prominent local favourites who would be missing from weekend action.
Indian-origin Swede Daniel Chopra (71) and PGTI Player of the Year Shamim Khan (66) also missed the cut despite improved cards in the second round.
Meanwhile, it was another fine performance by Gangjee, who had returned a 69 yesterday. Starting from the 10th, he picked up three strokes to make the turn three-under. In the front-nine, he continued in the same vein to sink in another three birdies before signing off a perfect day on the course.
"I've hit it close on both days. I converted a few more putts today as compared to round one. I sank a dramatic 50-footer for birdie on the third where the ball hit the hole, jumped out and fell in," he said.
"There were no destructive shots today. I made a couple of decent par saves on the 11th and first. I found the left bunker on the 11th and the left rough on the first but recovered well on both occasions," Gangjee said.
"The par saves kept the momentum going for me. I know if I keep it in play I'll have a great chance of picking up birdies," he added.
Chadha could have ended the day tied third but a dropped shot on the 17th pulled him back. With a flawless front-nine, studded with three birdies, PGTI's Emerging Player of the Year, who was overnight tied second, looked good to go higher up the board but he let it slip in the back-nine, which also included a birdie on the 15th.
Nirat, on the other hand, dropped just one bogey against seven birdies to replicate yesterday's performance and grab the top spot along with Chinese Wen Chong, who managed eight birdies against a couple of bogeys.
"I played very well indeed. This is a very long course and I managed to hit the balls long the last two days. I also managed to hole several long putts as well and luck did play a part in getting me to my position today," said Nirat.
"We've got many good players from Thailand as you can tell from the leaderboard. Chawalit just won his fourth Asian Tour title in Myanmar and we saw what Chinnarat can do yesterday. He didn't repeat that performance today but I'm sure he'll bounce back during the weekend. This course also favours us as it's long and we've many long hitters," he added.
Among other Indians, Jeev Milkha Singh put on an improved show and carded a four-under 68 to total seven-under 137 for two days. The seasoned Chandigarh-pro occupied the tied 20th position. Sharing it with him were Anirban Lahiri and Gaganjeet Bhullar, both of whom turned in three-under 69s.
"It was much better than yesterday when I had a bad bogey-bogey finish, which was disappointing. Today I hit better and played solid. I birdied each of the four par-fives, which felt good. Then I also birdied the par-3 17th, which is a difficult hole. The lone bogey on 13th, came when I went into the bunker and had no shot. I laid up and got away with a bogey," Jeev said, reflecting on his round.
"I missed a few (putts) out there, but that is always the case in any round...about five shots behinds at the start of the weekend is okay. I will get aggressive and go for it. On the last hole, I got greedy and went into the bunker, when I thought the wind would carry it onto the green. Still I did well to par the hole. The wind can be a factor now and then, but is the same for all. Over the last two days it has evened out for everybody," he explained.
Jyoti Randhawa (70) and Rashid Khan (73) managed to make the cut by two strokes after a rollercoaster outing that left them tied at 39th with accumulated totals of four-under 140. They were sharing it with, among others, former champion SSP Chowrasia, who went haywire after a blemishfree front-nine which was studded with struck an eagle.
In all, 14 Indians made the cut.
Overnight leader Phadungsil, meanwhile, conceded the five-stroke advantage after carding a disastrous two-over 74 that left him at the shared seventh spot on the leaderboard.
The back-nine, on which he sank in eight birdies yesterday, proved to be his undoing today as he ended up dropping six shots, including a double bogey, after teeing off from the 10th.
Elsewhere, it was sheer bad luck for Australian David Gleeson, who was disqualified after signing for the wrong score on his card.